New Mexico legislators have proposed a bill that would create a permanent fund for early childhood education, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham plans to make it a priority for the upcoming legislative session.

House Bill 83, sponsored by Rep. Doreen Gallegos and Sen. John Arthur Smith, was filed Tuesday. It proposes to appropriate $320 million from the state’s general fund to start a new “early childhood education and care fund” that would draw on two other funding sources in future years.

Lujan Grisham’s office said Tuesday the governor plans to work with lawmakers to get the legislation approved during the 2020 session, which begins Jan. 21. The proposal aims to help the state leverage unprecedented oil revenue to boost spending on early childhood education, which the governor has emphasized since taking office, without causing volatility in the general fund.

“The Trust Fund will generate its own revenue and be self-sustaining, the culmination of a long and dedicated push to create this kind of funding mechanism,” spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said in an email. “The governor looks forward to working with the legislature to enable the state to launch this permanent positive cycle of investment and opportunity in New Mexico families and young children.”

The proposal comes after unsuccessful efforts in the last legislative session to draw money from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education, a move that for years has been opposed by fiscal conservatives in the Senate, including Smith.

Support for the proposed early education endowment from Smith, who is chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee, may be a good sign for the legislation.

“I’ve told the governor I’m supportive,” Smith said Tuesday.

Smith added that despite a slight reduction in New Mexico’s oil revenue forecasts earlier this month, long-term projections suggest revenue will be strong enough to supply the early childhood fund.

“If you look at the forecast, we’ve got some concerning signs, but it still looks very positive for the long term,” he said.

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According to the bill, the new early childhood fund would receive distributions in future years from the state’s oil and gas emergency school tax and revenue from federal mineral leases.

The fund would only receive money from those sources if net receipts in a given fiscal year exceed the average annual amount from the previous five years.

“If there is an excess amount, the distribution shall be made as soon as practicable,” the bill says. “If there is not an excess amount, no distribution shall be made to the fund.”

Additionally, the early childhood fund would receive only excess revenue from the oil and gas emergency school tax if the balance in the state’s reserves for the current fiscal year is at or above 25 percent, according to the bill.

The fund would generate $20 million for early childhood programs in its first year and a minimum of $30 million in subsequent years. Such appropriations would need to be approved by legislators and would be administered by the state’s newly created Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

Lujan Grisham appointed Elizabeth Groginsky, formerly the assistant superintendent of early learning for Washington, D.C., as Cabinet secretary for the new department last month.

State Finance and Administration Secretary Olivia Padilla-Jackson first proposed the new fund during a presentation to legislators meeting in Red River in August.

“Governor Lujan Grisham knows the critical importance of permanently investing in New Mexico children,” Meyers Sackett added. “The Early Childhood Trust Fund will deliver that goal to New Mexico families and build an educational foundation for future generations.”

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Jens Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

(2) comments

Tom Aageson Aageson

While an excellent idea and needed, the need arises out of parents not preparing their children at home before they come to school. Reading with them from pictures to words to sentences. Printing out ideas and free hand drawing are needed. TV..sure Sesame Street and similar programs and the rest is off limits for young minds.

Chris Mechels

Another bureaucracy to eat up the funding. We saw this work last year when the money allocated for pre K ended up being used to give "educators" a 5% raise. This is just politics, PORK politics, which the Democrats love so much. MLG is just more of the same.

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